Conferences to boost law enforcement involvement in Special Olympics summer games

2013-05-12T00:00:00Z 2013-05-17T13:19:10Z Conferences to boost law enforcement involvement in Special Olympics summer gamesBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

If extra law enforcement officials from all over Montana converging in Billings during the same week when thousands of people will be visiting sounds too convenient to be a coincidence, it's because it isn't.

But not a single one of them will be in town to make arrests, and they probably won't have to keep an eye on any rowdy crowds.

While the Special Olympics Montana State Summer Games go on in Billings from May 14-17, the city also will host law enforcement officials from across the state for several annual conferences and meetings.

With law enforcement already playing an integral role in the Special Olympics on an annual basis through the Law Enforcement Torch Run, the extra presence means more officers can take part in this year's games.

"We should really have increased support, with officers going to the athletes' competition and handing out medals," said Terri Sappington, Special Olympics Montana's LETR coordinator. "It's a win-win and the athletes really appreciate what law enforcement does for them."

Scheduled in Billings for the same week as the games are the Peace Officer Memorial Day and parade on May 15th and annual board meetings and general sessions of the Montana Police Protective Association, the Montana Association of Chiefs of Police and the Association of Montana Troopers.

Officers from all over Montana already participate in the Torch Run, which raises more than $500,000 annually for SOMT, has officers and athletes run the Flame of Hope 2,400 miles across Montana to light the cauldron for the opening ceremonies and recruits law enforcement to award medals to athletes after competition.

It's just that, this year, there'll be a lot more of them.

"Billings is going to be absolutely inundated with cops that week," said Billings Police Department Officer Tina Hoeger, southeast Montana Torch Run coordinator. "We're hoping that for the first time ever, we'll have 100 cops in the Circle of Honor during the opening ceremonies."

Sappington said she spoke with organizers of the peace officer memorial events and that they all agreed to move it to Billings to allow more officers to take part in the Summer Games.

The MPPA, MACPP and highway patrol association also decided to hold their conferences in Billings soon after, she said.

"It just grew," she said. "So we're having all sorts of different events in Billings and hopefully people that attend one will attend the other."

On May 14, about 30 law enforcement officials from Billings and a few surrounding counties to the west will run and bicycle the final leg of the Torch Run from Big Timber to Billings, about 83 miles. After, they'll hold a celebration for athletes, law enforcement, friends and family at Dehler Park.

Hoeger said she expects many of the officials in town for other events to attend that one and then help out when they can during the competition through the week.

"Our role in that will be to hand out medals after events," she said.

The involvement by law enforcement officials from around the state has been an important part of the games for decades and this week's increased presence will reinforce that, Sappington said.

"The athletes love having the officers around," she said. "They're always very excited to receive the medals from them. And the officers always say they get back more than they give. They're welcomed with open arms and it's just amazing."

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